DENVER (AP) – Peyton perfect, yet an underdog?
Manning is 24-2 at home in the regular season since joining the Denver Broncos four years ago. One of those losses was to Houston, 31-25, and his current coach, Gary Kubiak, in 2012 when the Broncos were 1-point underdogs.
That was the only time odds-makers made Manning a home dog in the Rocky Mountains until this weekend, when they installed the Green Bay Packers (6-0) as a field-goal favorite.
“I think we should definitely not be an underdog, really. We’re at home, undefeated,” retorted cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “I guess they’re just going off the offensive struggles the first half of the season. So, you kind of understand that. But we feel like we should never be an underdog, ever.”
RJ Bell, founder and CEO of Pregame.com, said it’s not just that the Broncos are 29th in offense or than Manning is the NFL’s 31st-ranked passer, but that Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers and the league’s best scoring defense at 101 points.
The Broncos are next at 102, although Denver’s wrecking-crew defense actually is responsible for only 82 of those points as 20 have come off Manning’s trio of pick-6s.
Nevertheless, Manning is an underdog for just the fourth time in a Broncos uniform, home or away.
“We don’t care about that,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “People look at us as the ‘worst’ 6-0 team We’re 6-0! And … if we win 9-6, are we an ugly 7-0 team?”
The last time Manning was this big a home underdog was the season finale on Dec. 28, 2008, when the Titans were 3-point favorites at Indianapolis and Manning made a cameo appearance in the Colts’ 23-0 win.
Despite their dominant defense and stout special teams, the Broncos have outscored their opponents by just 37 points, the lowest differential for a 6-0 team since the 1933 Chicago Bears, who were plus-34.
That’s actually a good thing, Anderson argued.
The last few years, “we were blowing some people out and when we got into some tough situations it was hard to overcome,” he said. “This year, we’re just overcoming tough situations. Because we’ve just adapted to it.”
He figures all those clutch drives and close calls will pay dividends down the road, maybe even at home Sunday night.
Some other tidbits in the biggest matchup of the NFL season to date:
CHASING FAVRE: Last year, Manning choreographed his own celebration before breaking Brett Favre’s career TD record. He wasn’t in any mood to even talk about possibly tying Favre’s NFL record of 185 regular-season victories Sunday night.
“Yeah, I don’t really get into the what-ifs and the hypotheticals,” Manning said. “I got asked about that by the Green Bay media. They were really searching for questions asking about that, asking who has better insurance commercials, me or Aaron Rodgers.”
He wanted to focus on avoiding Clay Matthews instead.
FREE PLAYS: Rodgers is the best hard-counter in the league and has gained over 200 yards on six free plays, so Kubiak implored his pass rushers not to try jumping back if they’re drawn offside.
“Even though you’re wrong,” Kubiak said, “you’d better finish the play and make sure it’s a 5 (-yard penalty) and not a 50 (-yard gain).”
McMANUS COMEBACK: The Broncos’ Brandon McManus has gone from getting cut a year ago to being the best kicker in the NFL. He was chosen AFC special teams player of the month after converting 10 of 11 field goals, including winners against Minnesota and Cleveland.
“That’s a great accomplishment from where he came from,” Denver special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “It shows that hard work pays off.”
BOWLEN INDUCTION: Members of the Broncos’ 1997 team that beat the Packers in the Super Bowl will be on hand when team owner Pat Bowlen is inducted into the ring of fame during halftime. Bowlen, who’s battling Alzheimer’s, isn’t expected to attend the ceremony.
Team president Joe Ellis visited with Bowlen on Friday. “We had a nice, quiet, peaceful visit. It was great. He’s concentrating on his health and fighting the good fight against a terrible disease.”
RARIFIED AIR: This is just the fourth meeting of unblemished teams this late in the season. The others occurred in 1921, 1973 and 2007, when Tom Brady’s Patriots beat Manning’s Colts 24-20.
With the odds-makers picking Manning to lose Rodgers’ Packers just as he did in their only other meeting, in 2008, Harris said Denver’s defense is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL.
“We definitely feel we don’t get a lot of respect still,” Harris said. “People still don’t believe it. So, this is the perfect game to really go out there and show it.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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